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Nick Maimone: Finds Purpose, Joy Making Poker Matter in Honduras
The Republic of Honduras is the second poorest country in Central America.
Sixty per cent of the population is affected by poverty. Thirty-six per cent live under extreme poverty conditions.
I know this because Nick “FU_15” Maimone told me so.
Nick is a devout Christian who was fortunate enough to develop his poker skills sufficiently enough to make a career out of it.
He had money. He had the lifestyle. But something was missing from his heart. He was unfulfilled.
He was missing a purpose, so he grabbed his backpack and went looking for it. He found it in Honduras.
It’s a wonderful story and I'm grateful Nick agreed to share it with us.
Lee Davy: From North Carolina to Honduras ... what were the main milestones?
Nick Maimone: I grew up in the countryside. Poker wasn’t a part of my life back then. I never played card games during my childhood.
When I went to university I took a job waiting tables to raise some cash. I remember watching my friend playing on PokerStars and I was hooked.
I remember being super-excited to grind $5 tournaments. I thought, ‘If I get really good at this, it could open up a lot of doors in my life.’
I had to work really hard at the game. It didn’t come natural to me. I was the worst player in my dorm. I had no patience and bluffed it off all the time.
I was embarrassed with my level of skill and this gave me the impetus to learn more and become better.
I practiced all of the time, had some success, went broke a few times and then ended up getting 15th in the 2009 WSOP Main Event.
I went into Vegas that summer in a ‘do or die’ state of mind. I was pretty broke. It was a crazy experience. I was backed at the time.
I bricked the first 10 events and then I played the Main as my last shot. I was down to 10-15k at the end of the first day. Then I climbed and finished the rest of the days pretty well.
From Day 2 to Day 7 I wasn’t all-in at all. It was frustrating to get 15th but a huge blessing.
Even after I split the winnings with the backers and paid my taxes I still had enough money to pay off my college debt and start traveling.
I was 22 back then and traveling really opened my eyes to what was outside North Carolina. But back home I had saved some money and spent my time playing poker and sports.
After a while I felt unfulfilled. It was a very selfish life. I wasn’t helping many people. I was volunteering a bit but I wasn’t crossing the threshold of how much I was giving away compared to how much I was earning.
I went to El Salvador on a mission trip to build a church. I was really touched by how many amazing kids there were and how much good I could do with my time and money.
Then a few months later I was randomly backpacking through Honduras when the craziest thing happened. I was sitting on top of this bridge, over a lake, and the rental car key fell out of my pocket and was lost below.
So I’m stuck in Honduras and I can’t speak a word of Spanish. Fortunately I met the owners of this hotel and they ran a school.
They offered me a job. I turned it down because of my life back in the States. I returned home and then prayed on it. I thought, ‘why not?’
I went to Honduras and five years later I’m still there. I work with the school and closely with a non-profit called Pan American Health Services.
It’s an orphanage and health clinic for kids suffering from malnutrition. They take kids in, look after them, and if they don’t have a place to go when they are better they can stay.
LD: You were 22 years old when you realized the power of joy in giving. Where did that realization come from for someone so young?
NM: I give a lot of credit to my parents. They raised all of their children very conservatively Christian.
I always embraced my faith and knew God was providing for me and looking out for me. When we were young we were always taught to share our things.
As you get older this changes and it becomes more about what you can get personally. I have been studying this for a long time.
I have realized that greed is destroying the world. There are enough resources and land for everyone, but not enough people share. Few people have so much, and so many have so little.
It’s a huge problem. I wanted to make a difference. I have been very blessed in life. It’s my obligation to give.
There is a bible quote - in the Gospel of Luke, I think - ‘to whom much is given, much is expected.’ That’s always resonated with me.
LD: Were you fearful of the move to Central America?
NM: Back in the States I had a really nice apartment, a nice car, but I felt completely alone.
I am one of seven kids and have a few friends, but there was something missing in my life.
I was a bit of a loner. I had some money, I was single, and lonely, and so I thought why not?
Honduras gets a bad rap. I have never had a bad experience since I arrived here. A lot of the troubles are down to economic desperation.
Most murders are gang related. It’s not as if there are people wandering around looking to kill you. There is a lot of poverty and a lot of desperation.
I wasn’t scared. It seemed like the right thing to do.
LD: Did having faith help?
NM: My life is in God’s hands. If it’s my time to go, it’s my time to go. I don’t like holding too tightly to life.
I want to do something noble rather than sitting in some office waiting to one day die of a heart attack.
Since Black Friday a lot of American players moved abroad to places like Costa Rica and Mexico. A lot of them form their own communities and don’t learn the language or immerse in the culture.
They are there to just play online poker. They can get involved and help the poor. Make their poker mean something.
Don’t spend your life grinding away behind a computer. It has to mean something.
LD: What filled your loneliness when you arrived in Honduras?
NM: When I arrived I kept in touch with some people back home. I played a lot of football with the locals and spent a lot of time with the children.
I was trying to be a good role model and that filled up my time. I wasn’t spending time with my peers.
Two years after I arrived I met my wife here. She is from the UK and I hired her to work as a teacher.
I try to hire good people with good hearts and she covers both of those aspects. We got married last year and we do a lot of work with families in need.
There are so many ways to help people in this world.
I encourage anyone reading this to make sure their time matters, and they find something that gives them purpose and joy, and they make poker matter.
LD: As a Christian, did choosing poker as a profession make things tough for you?
NM: It did. In my faith playing poker is not wrong or sinful. It’s about moderation and control and trying to serve God in everything you do.
I had challenges in the beginning. My family didn’t trust it and didn’t think it was sustainable. I still don’t.
It’s one of these things - if you play poker and lose then people think it sucks, but if you play and win everyone thinks it’s great.
I wish it wasn’t so results orientated. People who lose are playing a game. There is nothing wrong with playing poker and having fun.
But if you play with money you don’t have, or you steal, then it becomes sinful.
LD: How do you balance how much of your money to keep and how much to give?
NM: It’s tough, and I’m really inspired by the story of Saint Nicholas. He was this prince who was very wealthy in medieval times.
On Christmas Day he would take bags of food and give them to poor people in the village. He loved giving and sharing, even if he got nothing in return.
When most people realize that giving, and not receiving, is the way to joy a light comes on. We are all wired like that.
It’s how people are made. You just need to find the realization.
I take care of myself. I travel a lot, I stay in nice places and I eat well. Sometimes I think I am selfish because I live well, and people have so little.
It’s a paradox. I balance it as well as I can. I set aside a lot of time and money to help others, but I also make sure that I take care of myself.
LD: What do you see when you look at the world?
NM: I have always tried to be an optimist. I think God is in control of the world but people are destroying it though greed.
There are the Seven Deadly Sins and the Seven Cardinal Virtues. Generosity is one of the virtues and Greed is one of the sins.
Those Seven Deadly Sins are the dark part of our hearts. It’s where we are being tempted to hurt others, exploit one another and take from the environment.
We have to battle that. There is goodness and badness in all of us. Sadly, a lot of people give into that.
They become selfish and take, take, take. People are destroying the earth. There are a few people who control all of the wealth in the world and they keep people as slaves.
The political arena keeps people in the nine to five, so they can make this paper money, to eat.
This makes them peaceful and docile whilst the people who own most of the money can do what they want. This saddens me a lot.
LD: Talk about your anger towards Coca-Cola.
NM: It’s something I am very passionate about. I have been having a battle with some high school kids.
One day they turned up at football with 12 huge bottles of Coke and they were selling them to young kids who were running around playing football in the blinding heat.
They were trying to sell Coke to raise money to go on a trip without any consideration for the other kids' health.
I got angry. I bought all of the Coke and dumped it onto the floor. I am not the healthiest person. I try my best, but Coke and Pepsi are archetypal examples of huge companies who know they are selling poison.
They are killing people all over the world and don’t care at all. There is no education, no restraint. I guarantee the CEOs of Coke and Pepsi do not drink it.
There is a huge lack of education in these places. They don’t understand that Coke is so bad for them. It’s more accessible for children than water some times.
Every single store and restaurant sells Coke or Pepsi here. Coke and Pepsi marketing is all over every little store or restaurant. People have no idea of the cost to their health.
They are fat, have low energy, have diabetes and are sick. It really frustrates me. This is why I try to raise awareness and I want companies like Coca-Cola and Pepsi to be more accountable.
The average income here is between $2-4k per year. It’s an incredibly hard life for a lot of people down here.
They don’t have access to clean water, don’t have passports, but Coke and Pepsi come down here and sell this horrible liquid, lying that it quenches their thirst, and they make millions of dollars off the back of these poor people.
LD: What does the future hold for you?
NM: Poker is fun and exciting because it’s always evolving, but it’s also unpredictable. I have had years where I have made a lot of money, and some years when I have made nothing.
We don’t know where we will end up. We will pray on it and see what arises. The most important thing is to live well and help as many people as we can.
LD: How can poker players help people in Honduras?
NM: We do a lot of work with Pan American Health Services. They are in desperate need of donations. They have trouble paying their staff and doctors.
It’s a voluntary service. They take sick children in, give them food and vitamins, and if they have nowhere to go they stay there.
It’s incredibly costly and they need all the help they can get. You can go to their website and donate at www.panamhealth.org.
I like to stress to people that it’s important to be on the ground helping people. It’s good to give from your home, but it makes it real to get involved and support a family in person.
There are a ton of kids that need basics like clean water.
Pan American put me in touch with a lot of families and this is how I have managed to spread my help even wider.
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12 March 2018 70